Greenhouseg(u)estation: Developing policy on global warming

A Henderson-Sellers

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    Greenhouse policy must be developed quickly in Australia and around the world for at least two reasons: the Earth is already wan-ning and the Kyoto protocol demands adherence to agreed emission reductions by 2008. This paper explores how mismatch of time-scales between media commentary about greenhouse issues and full scientific understanding is hindering the development of a sustainable management strategy for greenhouse gas emission reductions.

    Policy options are currently severely hampered by simultaneous subjection to two separate, and often orthogonal, forces: public (i.e. constituency) opinion and research-derived (i.e. science, economics, management) facts. The dilemma for those trying to deliver effective policy frameworks is that the complexity of greenhouse issues seems to mean that consensus on facts lags media-based debate by a significant period. In this paper, I show that this time lag is about eight years. The same eight years we have to act before the Kyoto protocol bites.

    Policy makers are well-used to proceeding effectively without definitive and uncontestable data but greenhouse is an extraordinary case. The shift from scientific theory to fast-moving global policy has been so rapid that there is a tendency for those opposing particularly policy options to regress into debates about 'truth' rather than focussing on current views of best options. The three case studies presented illustrate this tendency. They review:

    i) the 'is it true?' debate - here illustrated in terms of model predictions disagreeing with surface energy-based empirical calculations;

    ii) the 'is it warming?' debate - here illustrated in terms of climate predictions disagreeing with satellite-derived data; and

    iii) the 'will it matter anyhow?' debate - here illustrated in terms of insurance-based future scenarios disagreeing with environmentalists' beliefs.

    These three case studies illustrate my hypothesis that the gestation period for research-based responses to pressing greenhouse questions is about eight years. The passage of a scientific hypothesis (or best guess) from conception to public explanation through the media appears to take around eight years: the greenhouse g(u)estation. This process cannot be rushed. We have only eight years from now until the start of the first Kyoto budget period in 2008. Scientists' current best guesses are the greenhouse policy reality in which we must operate.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationGreenhouse gas control technologies
    Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the fifth international conference on greenhouse gas control technologies
    EditorsDavid J Williams, Bob Durie, Patrick McMullan, Colin Paulson, Andrea Smith
    Place of PublicationCanberra, Australia
    PublisherCommonwealth Scientific And Industrial Research Organization
    Number of pages6
    ISBN (Electronic)9780643105720
    ISBN (Print)0-643-06672-1, 9780643105027
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2001
    Event5th International Conference on Greenshouse Gas Control Technologies - CAIRNS, Australia
    Duration: 13 Aug 200018 Aug 2000


    Conference5th International Conference on Greenshouse Gas Control Technologies


    • CO2

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